Creativity, Leadership, Personal Development, Perspective, Strategic planning

Vuja de and Authentic Dissenters: Tactics for combating cognitive bias

The last couple of days I’ve written about cognitive biases; first describing some of the most common types[1], then offering a reason why we are all susceptible to them[2]. Today I’d like to take a quick stab at offering a couple of ideas for how to combat a two of the most common ones; confirmation bias and groupthink. Recall that confirmation bias entails only seeking out information that confirms what we believe to be true or the best solution. Groupthink is all about promoting group cohesion and harmony at the cost of finding the best answers. Both of these are quite common when a group or team is faced with a challenging problem.

Idea 1 – Vuja de. We have all heard of déjà vu; the feeling, upon experiencing something new, that you have seen or done this before. Vuja de is the opposite. It means meeting something you have seen before with new eyes; forcing yourself to experience the well-known as if it were a novelty. It means questioning the default that “everyone” knows to be true. So next time you are in a meeting and someone groans and says, “We’ve seen this before,” or, “We’ve done this a hundred times,” try suggesting to the group (or if you don’t feel comfortable with that, to yourself) to imagine that this is the first time they (you’ve) encountered this particular challenge. See what happen.

Idea 2 – Authentic dissenter. We have all been in meetings where an attempt is made to look at a problem from all angles. This is a good start at seeing multiple perspectives. Some go even further and suggest that someone play the role of devil’s advocate; someone whose task is to find arguments for an opposing viewpoint to the one held by the majority. This is even better as it calls on at least one person to fully argue from the opposite point of view. Yet, it is only a role played by someone. It is not her own point of view. Psychologist Adam Grant argues that even better than a devil’s advocate is to find an authentic dissenter, someone who actually holds an opposing point of view. Let that person participate in the discussion. Research shows that groups that engage an authentic dissenter generate 48% more solutions to problems than those that assign the role of devil’s advocate to someone in the group.

So, next time you really want to produce more and better solutions to your challenges and combat two common cognitive biases, try thinking Vuja de and/or use an Authentic Dissenter in your discussions. And remember to have fun :-).


For more on this check out Adam Grant’s excellent book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. Chapter 7, Rethinking Groupthink is extremely useful for today’s topic.




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